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Busting IVF myths

Professor Nick Macklon
Professor Nick Macklon, Medical Director of the London Women’s Clinic

Professor Nick Macklon is the Medical Director of the London Women’s Clinic Group and is a world-renowned expert in reproductive medicine. He has held professorships at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, the University of Southampton and the University of Copenhagen. Today, Professor Macklon answers questions that many people have surrounding the health and wellbeing of IVF births and babies.

Choosing to undergo IVF can be an emotional decision. There are huge amounts of information out there and while we are glad the topic is widely discussed, we understand this can be overwhelming. In recent years, particularly with the growth of social media, myths surrounding IVF and fertility treatment are more common. 

"Are IVF pregnancies higher risk?"

Pregnancies arising from IVF are often thought to be at higher risk than spontaneously conceived pregnancies, but this perception has arisen because of the high rate of multiple pregnancies and associated risks of prematurity that characterized IVF in its early days. Fortunately, modern practice does not require the transfer of multiple embryos and therefore the risk of multiple pregnancy has dropped considerably.

We do need to remember that on average women who conceive with IVF are older, and we know that increased age brings with it slightly increased risks in pregnancy. However, in healthy women, these risks remain low even up to age 50.

"Are IVF babies 'normal' and healthy?"

IVF babies have been very closely followed up, and with now more than 6 million babies born from IVF, we are getting a very reassuring picture of their health. There is some evidence that IVF babies conceived after fresh embryo transfer are born a little smaller than spontaneously conceived babies, and while this may in part reflect parental factors related to infertility, we think that the IVF process itself may be involved. This is supported by the observation that babies born after frozen thaw transfer are if anything slightly larger than spontaneously conceived babies. At this time however, these differences do not appear to have significant long-term consequences and may IVF babies are now healthy parents of naturally conceived children!

However, we do need to keep researching the health of IVF babies, and recently it has been suggested that growing embryos in the laboratory environment might have subtle effects on future development. Again, these appear minor but need to be followed up.

"Are IVF babies born early?"

We often think of IVF babies being born prematurely more often than spontaneously conceived babies. This impression arises from the increased proportion of IVF babies who are twins or even triplets. However, the norm now is to transfer just one embryo and this had greatly reduced this risk.

"Are IVF babies born late?"

There is no evidence of this.

"Are IVF babies sicker?"

As long as we can avoid multiple pregnancies and the associated risks of prematurity, IVF does not appear to be associated with sicker babies.

"Are IVF babies bigger?"

There is some evidence that babies born after frozen thaw transfer may be slightly bigger than spontaneously conceived babies. The reason for this remains unclear.

"Are IVF babies born smaller?"

See above.

"Are IVF babies fertile?"

Yes. The incidence of subfertility in adults born as a result of IVF does not seem to be increased. One possible exception to this is men who were conceived after ICSI because their father had very poor sperm quality. These babies are just beginning to become dads now, and while they appear to be fertile in general, a recent study suggests that they have a slightly higher prevalence of low sperm count, suggesting they have inherited this from their father in some cases. We need more data to confirm this initial observation though.

"Are IVF twins identical?"

Most IVF twins are born as a result of two embryos being transferred into the uterus at the same time and both implanting. These embryos came from different eggs and are not therefore identical. Occasionally, however, a single embryo can ‘split’ into two, resulting identical twins, just as can happen in nature too.

So most IVF twins are not identical.

"Are IVF babies taller?"

IVF babies don’t seem to be taller as a result of having been conceived by IVF.

"Are IVF babies induced?"

Most IVF pregnancies run the same course as spontaneous pregnancies, and unless a complication develops, or the pregnancy continues beyond the desired term, IVF pregnancies are not routinely induced.

Have another question?

We hope our post has gone some way to dispelling some of your concerns around IVF pregnancies. However, we understand that you may have many more questions relating to your personal circumstances. Get in touch with your nearest clinic where you can discuss your options with our consultants.

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